The Best Albums of the ’00s

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The Best Albums of the '00s

60. Jens LekmanNight Falls Over Kortedala
(2007; Secretly Canadian)

Jens Lekman has long been compared to the likes of Stephen Merritt, Jonathan Richman and, on occasion, Morrissey. It’s not that the Swedish singer-songwriter sounds much like these artists, musically, but what they all share is a talent for spinning a captivating yarn, creating a fascinating and thoroughly entertaining world in song, with characters that may or may not be real, and anecdotes that may or may not have happened. On Night Falls Over Kortedala, Jens sings a love song to an Israeli hairdresser, gets stuck in an unpleasant town with an unusual pastime, turns an avocado-chopping incident into one of the sweetest love songs in recent memory, and, most infamously, poses as a the fiancée of a friend hesitant to come out to her parents. And like a musical Michel Gondry, he makes a shoestring budget into a Tin Pan Alley orchestra, creating lo-fi symphonic pop that spans from disco (“Sipping On the Sweet Nectar”) to piano-plinking, handclapping euphoria (“The Opposite of Hallelujah”). Lekman’s wordplay is so well-timed and charming, and delivered through the prestige of his hypnotic baritone, that each musical tale, whether real or not, is enough to leave me convinced. – Jeff Terich

59. DeerhunterMicrocastle/Weird Era Cont.
(2008; Kranky)

Well before it came out, the most recent full-length from Atlanta psych-rockers Deerhunter was unfortunately mired in 2008’s most publicized leak drama. In addition to Microcastle being posted to the Internet five months prior to its official release date, prompting an early digital release on iTunes, sometime later, frontman Bradford Cox inadvertently linked readers of the Deerhunter blog to a folder containing an unmastered version of the album’s until-then secret bonus disc, Weird Era Cont. (as well as an unfinished Atlas Sound record and personal photos). But after heated blog posts, apologies, and the dust of the gossip mills had settled, it became clear that no amount of drama could overshadow the sheer excellence of this record. While the dark, distorted hypnotics of Cryptograms surged and meandered down strange and rewarding paths, Microcastle takes pieces of this foundation and delves into territory that’s softer, brighter, and even more skillfully laden with blankets of distortion and soaring guitar hooks. Its overwhelming fullness of sound is extremely satisfying; on subsequent listens, you can easily find new layers of texture to immerse yourself in, or simply let all of them wash over you in a transcendent haze. Bradford Cox remains the obvious guiding force of the band, his dark and pensive vision unfurling themes of solitude, sadness, death, monotony and rejection in an infectious, haunting drawl. But here he also shares songwriting and vocal duties with other members of Deerhunter, their sleek combined effort simultaneously rising to unexpected heights of swirling, shoegazing pop. Meanwhile, the twisting psychedelia of Weird Era Cont. pulses and fades underneath production murky enough to make Microcastle seem crisp and clear, submerging the listener into the depths of fuzz. With pop tendencies stifled by waves of ambience and abrasive noise, it operates as a perfect compliment to its warmer, smoother adjoined-opus; both albums could easily stand on their own, but become that much stronger together. – Derek Emery

58. Neko CaseFox Confessor Brings the Flood
(2006; Anti-)

Neko Case was always a good songwriter, but she’s a spellbinding singer. On Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, her songwriting skills start to close the gap. On opener “Margaret vs. Pauline,” she sums up the difference between two girls with one devastating lyric (“One left her sweater sittin’ on the train / The other lost three fingers at the cannery“). She marries girl group to gospel on “That Teenage Feeling” and remakes gospel in her own image on “John Saw the Number.” Recorded with a studio full of talented musicians, some of the metal and wood instruments even get a chance to compete with the weapon of mass destruction that is her voice. (None of them win of course, but even sharing the field is an accomplishment). Case’s follow up effort, Middle Cyclone showed even more growth. If someday her songwriting skills catch up to her singing, God help us all. – Elizabeth Malloy

57. Kanye WestLate Registration
(2005; Roc-a-fella)

Before Kanye West, one of the largest obstacles for an aspiring MC to overcome would be to hail from suburbia. But while The College Dropout was a victory for wannabe rappers in culs-de-sac everywhere, Late Registration can be counted as a greater victory for Kanye himself—a record that proved that Dropout‘s success was no fluke, cementing Ye’s status as one of the most important pop stars of the decade. As usual, Kanye excels by playing up the contradictions: the sensitive soul who wrote “Hey Mama” vs. the arrogant jackass convinced that he’d be in the Bible if it were written today; a true pop genius vs. the idiot who consistently finds himself the center of controversy for popping off at the mouth. Despite his boastful nature, Kanye knows what his weaknesses are and plans accordingly, whether that means bringing in a whole slew of top-notch guest stars (Cam’ron, Jay-Z, Nas, Lupe Fiasco) to make up for his shortcomings as a rapper, or enlisting Jon Brion to expand his own production methods into cinematic territories. Nevertheless, Late Registration remains Kanye’s show and a prime example of how the man used his own paradoxical nature to rise to stardom. – Eric Friedman

56. Franz FerdinandFranz Ferdinand
(2004; Domino-Epic)

Franz Ferdinand had the best clothes and the coolest record collection, as we discovered upon the release of their self-titled debut in 2004. But none of that would have really mattered if they didn’t also have the songs to show for it. As the 11 single-ready tunes on their impeccable first album showed, the Scottish outfit more than surpassed their stylishness with chops, and thus international superstars (on an indie rock scale anyhow) were born. Outfoxing American dance-punk counterparts with a sophisticated Scottish wit and a decidedly more jerky approach to Britpop, Franz Ferdinand seemingly lined up standout after standout, from the visceral “Jacqueline” to the spunky “Darts of Pleasure,” from the spindly “Dark of the Matinee” to the unstoppable force of “Take Me Out.” Note perfect but never taking themselves too seriously, Franz Ferdinand backed up their statement that it’s so much better on holiday. – Jeff Terich

55. RadioheadHail To the Thief
(2003; Capitol)

A great many of us came across Hail to the Thief as a premature bootleg months before its release in the spring of ’03 and had relentlessly absorbed its contents by the time the definitive release came out later that summer. One could argue it was a test of loyalty to snag the unmastered version – like the countless fans who entered a plump goose egg in the payment box when In Rainbows surfaced four years later – but the truth is, Hail to the Thief could more than weather the blow. By the band’s own admission, its sprawling 14 tracks were a little rushed in the studio, especially when compared to the endlessly tweaked Kid A/Amnesiac sessions, but whatever slight gloss the album may lack hardly detracts from its near-perfect form. Anxious fits like “2+2=5” and “Go to Sleep” offset slumbering respites like “Sail to the Moon” and “I Will,” while quirky ticks like “The Gloaming” and “Myxomatosis” reveal the underbelly to epics like “There, There” and “A Wolf at the Door.” A record like this is a rare find in every sense of the word. How could we not have a peek? – Dustin Allen

54. Grizzly BearYellow House
(2006; Warp)

Listening to Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, I imagine desolate country fields and creaky old houses, cloaked in dust and shadow. I picture the shadowy home that graces the album cover. Leaving behind the lo-fi aesthetic of their early years, Yellow House is more polished, more fully formed, showing a band with growing confidence in their vision. The intricacies of their arrangements, the haunted air that permeates, these are songs that are beautiful, rich with texture and atmosphere. There is grandness in songs like “Lullabye” and “Knife” that previous Grizzly Bear songs could never achieve. Recorded in Cape Cod instead of their native Brooklyn, the songs have a sense of space that allow for these meandering songs to take shape on their own terms, leading to beautifully wistful melodies, weighty codas and jarring shifts. Couple these with utterly gorgeous multi-part vocal harmonies and Yellow House is an album of palpable atmosphere, creaking, mysterious, and wondrous to explore. – Jackie Im

53. Postal ServiceGive Up
(2003; Sub Pop)

Considering just how popular this album was back when it was released in 2003, I’m surprised this didn’t break the top 50. After all, behind Bleach and Flight of the Conchords, Give Up is the third bestselling album in Sub Pop history. For a while, before the move to Atlantic, it seemed that the Postal Service was even outshining Gibbard’s original act, Death Cab for Cutie. Born from a Dntel collaboration, “(This Is) The Dream of Evan And Chan,” a track that name checked Evan Dando and Cat Power (Chan Marshall), the Postal Service took the world by storm a mere year and a half later. Postal Service tracks were everywhere from numerous commercials to soundtrack appearances, covers and everything in between. The sensitive, skinny-jeaned indie kids were getting into dance music in a big way and there was no escape. “Such Great Heights,” “The District Sleeps Alone” and “We Will Become Silhouettes” were such strong singles that they remained in the listeners’ top 10 until 2007. The fact that Give Up, now nearly seven years later, is in our top 150 of the decade displays the strength of the album. It’s most likely the lack of a second act and a preciousness backlash that led to its cascade out of the top 50; from a person we named “Artist of the Year” at the close of 2003. But, if you’re simply dismissing Give Up for its ever present singles, take a second listen to the he said / she said mastery between Gibbard and Jen Wood on “Nothing Better,” and Jimmy Tamborello’s finest layered composition to date, “Natural Anthem.” – Terrance Terich

52. The NationalAlligator
(2005; Beggars Banquet)

Alligator begins with Matt Berninger calmly stating, “this place is full of spies” and ends with his hysterical roar, “I won’t fuck us over!” What transpires between these two points is described in articulate detail, to the point that these very intimate portraits leave their connective thread obscured and disjointed. With intricate instrumentation and a cool, reserved eloquence, the brothers Dessner and Devendorf illuminate Berninger’s off-kilter narratives with a magical, chic style of rock that can erupt into an uproarious rock anthem, as on the stunning “Abel” or “Mr. November,” but often keep an entrancing cool. Alligator is a wholly atypical rock album, intimate without being personal, powerful without being brutish, and often quite beautiful. Most remarkably, it’s a very masculine album, one whose rotating narrators and characters, most of them male, are vulnerable and flawed, but ultimately stand strong in spite of their insecurities and weaknesses. That Berninger is able to so effortlessly capture such a nearly intangible quality is reason enough to laud the album, though the 13 amazing songs don’t hurt either. – Jeff Terich

51. The ShinsChutes Too Narrow
(2003; Sub Pop)

By cleaning up the production that the relatively lo-fi Oh, Inverted World reveled in, James Mercer and Co. proved with Chutes Too Narrow that The Shins’ charm was all in the songwriting. And oh how well these songs are written: “So Says I,” “Saint Simon,” “Kissing the Lipless”—few bands can claim an album with so many memorable pop gems (let alone two albums in a row). Layered arrangements, alternating between restraint and indulgence; gorgeous vocal melodies; deceptively intelligent lyrics—if you’re sick of the more pleasant strains of indie rock by now, The Shins are partly responsible, but Chutes stands as one of pop songwriting’s greatest achievements. – Eric Friedman

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